Friday, February 15, 2013

The healing powers of snow


By ROBIN SIAS

Standing atop Bald Mountain for the past few weeks has been an exercise in stilling my roiling mind and trying to listen to what the universe is telling me.

I have undertaken this peculiar meditation because a few weeks ago, my children lost their father, my former husband, two weeks after his 44th birthday. He was living in New York and his health had steadily deteriorated during the past few years. But as anyone who has lost someone they love knows, there is always hope until there isn’t.

My overwhelming instinct, in response to this profound loss, was to go up, to get on top of the mountain and spend as much time there as possible. On Baldy’s summit, at 9,150 feet, surrounded by sublime peaks and that immense blue sky, it is impossible not to search for perspective. Whether you are looking down, looking up, or looking out, the world below falls away, allowing what is important to rise up and take focus. I have always done my best thinking on the mountain—puzzled through problems, found solutions, called it a draw, let it go. Altitude is what I seek when nothing else is working. Or even when it is.

When we first learned of Ray’s passing, the mindless routine of skiing was comforting. Get dressed; drive to the mountain; hop on the parking lot shuttle; click into my boots; adjust my mask; greet my friends who check my pass at the bottom of River Run; get carried to the top. Every day on the hill resembles the one before which is a good thing. Solace takes many forms.

Yet the few runs I managed those first days were not routine, they were tentative, hesitant, wholly uncertain. When your entire world changes shape, the terrain beneath your feet suddenly does, too. Although my legs were making the usual motions down the usual runs, I was totally disconnected, out of my body, continuously scanning the sky for something. For what, I wasn’t sure.

As I turned my face to the powerful Idaho winter sun and watched the snow move beneath me, the hill started to work its magic. Subsequent days have started to put me firmly back on the hill, grateful for the pull of gravity keeping me connected to the slope. Back in my body, the anger, disappointment and grief have taken hold of my muscles. Normally, I am far from an aggressive skier but attacking the runs feels really good right about now.

I am typical, it seems, in my proclivities. Since time immemorial, mountains have been a place of rebirth, epiphany, signs. People have always climbed peaks in order to get grounded. As mountaineer Anatoli Boukreev so poetically surmised, “Mountains are not stadiums where I satisfy my ambition to achieve, they are the cathedrals where I practice my religion.” Mountains are a place of healing, whether you are going up, or sliding down.

According to Ketchum’s Ellen Tracy, a therapist, as well as an avid skier, being up on the mountain can’t help but provide a sense of connection with something bigger than oneself. “Nature truly does heal,” she said. “And activity is vital. When I work with someone who has suffered a loss, my first recommendations always include getting outside and doing something physical. The endorphins kick in and when you are up skiing or snowboarding, it takes you out of the story in your head. You are forced to be in the moment.”

So why do we ski or snowboard or climb mountains for that matter? Surely for the joy. Because it is good to feel your heart race and your muscles work as you make your way down a slope. Because the sting of your lungs when you breathe air so cold it could shatter feels perfect. Because what better way is there to spend time with friends and family? Because you can be alone on the hill but still intrinsically connected to those around you. Because it heals a lot of wounds. Because on top of Baldy, you simply feel alive.

It will always be the Wood River Valley’s pristine rivers that I most associate with my husband (he was a beautiful fisherman with an uncanny and envy-provoking ability to read a stream). Yet I also see him in the mountains. I will always remember him as a strong, handsome, 22-year-old, fresh out of Yale, playing hockey in the minors, learning, finally, to ski. In my mind, he will remain powerful and fast, young and free, taking on Warm Springs top-to-bottom on his third day on skis.

For Ray Letourneau. May these mountains forever be a home.

 




About Comments

Comments with content that seeks to incite or inflame may be removed.

Comments that are in ALL CAPS may be removed.

Comments that are off-topic or that include profanity or personal attacks, libelous or other inappropriate material may be removed from the site. Entries that are unsigned or contain signatures by someone other than the actual author may be removed. We will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or any other policies governing this site. Use of this system denotes full acceptance of these conditions. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

The comments below are from the readers of mtexpress.com and in no way represent the views of Express Publishing, Inc.

You may flag individual comments. You may also report an inappropriate or offensive comment by clicking here.

Flagging Comments: Flagging a comment tells a site administrator that a comment is inappropriate. You can find the flag option by pointing the mouse over the comment and clicking the 'Flag' link.

Flagging a comment is only counted once per person, and you won't need to do it multiple times.

Proper Flagging Guidelines: Every site has a different commenting policy - be sure to review the policy for this site before flagging comments. In general these types of comments should be flagged:

  • Spam
  • Ones violating this site's commenting policy
  • Clearly unrelated
  • Personal attacks on others
Comments should not be flagged for:
  • Disagreeing with the content
  • Being in a dispute with the commenter

Popular Comment Threads



 Local Weather 
Search archives:


Copyright © 2014 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.